Disclaimer: I own nothing.
A/N: In response to a challenge brought on by Taskforce. This was probably not at all what you were expecting. Enjoy.
Definition of SCAPEGOAT
1: A goat upon whose head are symbolically placed the sins of the people after which he is sent into the wilderness in the biblical ceremony for Yom Kippur
2a: One that bears the blame for others
2b: One that is the object of irrational hostility
Oh Sweet Child, Come Away with Me.
From the Great and Grand Kingdom of Omelas.
Whose Streets are lined with Gold.
Where the Soil is Fertile, the Merchants Thick,
Where Not One Person Grows Poor nor Sick.
So Come Sweet Child, Come Away With Me.
Away from this GreatLand of Prosper.
For withinits Corridors, so Deep and Grand,
Lays a Secret of Cruelty and Despair.
…Once upon a time, in a land neither here nor there, was a kingdom. It was a poor kingdom, one slowly devouring itself from the inside. Poverty ran rampant, the land was dead, and the stench of disease and death hung like a blanket over the heads of those that dwelled within. The people were desperate, hopeless, with nothing to live for and only death to look forward to.
Sick and dying, their king rested on his bed, his body hot with fever and reeking of the stench of death. "What have my people done to deserve this?" The dying king cried, tears falling down cheeks that sagged with age. "Have we done something wrong? Have the heavens cursed us? Have the gods forsaken us? Please Lord, with the last breath I have, answer my questions!"
The king begged and wept, desperate for a response, yet knowing deep within his heart that like the citizens under his reign, ones who just as he, had spoken similar words time and time again, that he would receive no answer to his pleas.
Or so he thought.
For within his room, a hearth snapped quietly, the king's only companion save the hallucinations that haunted his frail mind, and from that hearth a spark sprang forth, bright and red and glowing. It fell to the carpeted floor, where surely it would have caught fire, yet nothing of the nature happened.
Rather, the spark grew in size, growing larger and brighter and moving towards the king's bed with a will all its own. The king, spotting the spark, felt a swift wave of tears fall from his eyes, for he knew that with the coming of the spark, glowing and growing into a human torch, that his time had come. The king closed his eyes and sobbed, wishing not to see the face that was to take him from his home, nor where it was the burning wraith wished to take him.
"Oh sweet king, for what reason do you cry? Please open your eyes."
A voice spoke forth, sweet and gentle and feminine, and something warm and soft and filled with life touched his cheek. Compelled to follow the silent request, curious as to the owner of such a kind voice, the king did as requested, opening his eyes and finding not one great and terrible burning wraith sent to take him away, but a woman, sitting on the edge of his bed, one hand resting gently on his cheek.
She was terrifying and soothing all at once. For in her face, the king saw the lover he'd always longed for, the perfect queen to rule at his side. His mother, a daughter, the sister he'd never had. The beggar on the street, the old witch in the woods, the little girls dying of starvation in the very streets below his castle.
She was everything and nothing all at once. And in that moment, the king knew he was speaking to a god.
"Please…" The king's voice was little above a whisper, so struck with awe was he. "I wish to end the suffering of my nation. I wish for this kingdom and those within its walls to know happiness. I want an end to this suffering that plagues them, this poverty that rests on their back, where the soil is infertile and even the animals dare not stray to. Please Great Lady! I would give you anything, that my people might know the taste of a joy that has been so long denied them! Please! My life! My children! Anything!"
So taken aback by a wish so selfless, the deity brought a hand to her heart. "Oh sweet king…such a grand wish you make, not for yourself nor the ones due to inherit, but for the people who serve you. Please…for what reason do you desire such a wish?"
The king, with the last strength he had, moved his hands, frail and weak, with flesh hanging from his bones, to grip the hand at his cheek. "I was among the last to fall to this curse." He said. "Before this sickness befell me, I traveled my streets and grew disgusted with what I saw. People dying in the streets, while others raided their corpses for what little the dead had to offer. Beggars and thieves trailed behind me in a caravan, and not one person showed me a look of respect. Seeing in them my own future, I locked myself away in my castle, hording what remaining supplies we had for myself and my family. And so while the rest of my people lied dying in the streets, I lived comfortably in my castle. Yet as the food faded, soon too did we became victims of the sickness that haunted those in the lower city, and when my eldest son passed, I discovered the meaning of desperation."
His grip grew strong with a decision made long ago. "I have grown humble since the passing of my son, with my own death so close at hand. And so I ask you once more Great Lady, will you not ease the suffering of my people?"
The woman remained silent for several long minutes, minutes that stretched far into eternity and filled the old king with dread, fearful that she would deny his last parting wish. And at the moment he felt himself ready to collapse once more with despair, the deity spoke anew.
"You have grown wise on your deathbed, sweet king. Your words have touched my heart, and so I shall grant your wish. However, your plea is large, and cannot be made without an exchange for the utopia you seek. Something must be given in return."
Instantly, the king called out, "My life! My life! For my kingdom, for my family, I will give my life for this one wish!"
Yet the woman shook her head. "Your life is near ended, sweet king, and would do little for the kingdom you desire. I would need a greater sacrifice, one that could stand with the city and follow it through the years."
"Then I give you my child, who's yet to be born from the womb of its sick mother. Save my kingdom, and I will give you my life and the life of my unborn child to use as you would see fit."
The woman thought about the bargain for a moment, growing silent with contemplation once more. And then she said, "Very well then, sweet king. I will save your kingdom in exchange for two lives. I shall take your life, and use what little you have left to heal your sick queen and give her the strength to bare your child. And at its birth, so too will the sins of this kingdom and those who dwell within, fall to its head. The more your kingdom prospers, the more the child shall suffer. The more pain and suffering that befall the child, the grander and more excellent your realm shall become."
" And with its birth, so too shall an announcement be made, to all people of age whom dwell within this land, that their happiness shall fall on the dependency of another's suffering, and that when the time comes that their own children come of age, so too will they learn the truth."
And with her finishing words, the woman burst into flames, re-igniting as the spark she once was and setting light to the bed upon which the dying king dwelled. The world around him burning, the old king wept tears that might have been joy, might have been despair, falling from his eyes until they could fall no more.
"Father, you cannot be serious!" The young woman shouted, hands slamming down on the elaborate wooden table before her and rising to her feet. "You mean to tell me that all my life, all our lives, from the moment Omelas grew prosperous once more, has been due to the continued suffering of one innocent person? From the moment he was born?" The dark haired youth swung her arm wide around her, dark eyes taking in the elaborate murals, the chandeliers, the grand furniture and oh so much more. "Father how can you live with this? Knowing we live in such splendor because of a wish?" She diverted her attention back to her father, who watched her outrage silently, arms crossed with a frown on his face. "Father-!"
"Silence!" The father responded with a roar, causing the young woman, who'd only just entered the stages of adulthood, to flinch under his tone. "Child of mine, you've forgotten the hardships we endured prior to the prosperity we now enjoy. How we starved, how your mother, my wife, died of disease on the very streets we walk now, only for her body to be robbed of even the clothes on her back like so many other people! Had it not been for such a wish, we would not be here now, healthy and strong and rich! Had it not been for one child's suffering, you would not be here!"
The girl-woman drew back, startled and shamed at her father's rage. The youth bit her lip, hands clenching at her side and eyes drifting to the floor, unable to meet the raging brown that were so similar to her own.
Calming himself, the elder continued, the storm that had been present mere seconds ago vacating for the distant rumble of thunder that was his voice. "We are all aware of this truth, dear daughter. And while it shames me to say that I have accepted it, I have also come to the realization that it is far better to let one person suffer rather than have a nation fall to its knees as our kingdom had once before. The life we lived prior…I'd not wish it on my greatest enemy, and like our departed king, I'd do anything to prevent it from happening again. And by the gods, if that means to have a single child accountable for all the pain and suffering from that time so long ago, then so be it. I will live my life, and I shall enjoy it to the fullest, so as not to let that child's sacrifice go in vain."
He turned away, his thoughts raging and filled with memories of hard times long past. "And if you cannot appreciate the circumstances under which we live under, then leave this land, for a place perhaps a bit more honest in your eyes." With that said, the father left the room, his child's cry of protest at his words haunting him up the stairs.
Alone now, the young woman gripped the chair she'd been sitting in for support, gritting her teeth in a whirlwind of rage, fear, and sadness at her father's words. Leave? She thought, the very word alone causing her stomach to churn with anxiety. Leave like Isa and Setanta and the others who departed so soon after coming of age? There had always been one or two of her older group of friends who, after becoming an adult in the eyes of their society, had departed for reasons unknown to her at that time.
She'd never met anyone who'd ever returned after their decision to leave.
Knuckles white from her grip on the chair, the young woman's face peeled back in a snarl. How could he expect me to leave after hearing this truth? She thought. This kingdom is all I have known since I was born. I could never leave this place, no matter what befell it.
The snarl departed for a frown, and with a glance to the door her father had departed through, the woman moved through the house and to its front, where stood the entrance to and from her home. For a moment, the youth simply stared at the door, her mind abuzz with thoughts and ideas that felt strange and alien, yet somehow inviting all at once. The woman took a deep breath and opened the door, stepping out into the world beyond.
And what a grand and glorious world it was. Its streets were decorated and dotted with peddlers and merchants, rainbows of people and goods weaving in-between each other in a dance of prosperity. The air was gentle and sweet with the scent of flowers both native and foreign, seeming to sing with the voices of those going about their business in the streets. Performers danced merrily on street corners and vendors sold street food whose very scent would make the mouth of any passer-by water with sudden desire.
The buildings were elegant and elaborate, filled with gentle slopes and curves of an artist's design, with flora ranging from simple flowers to animal-carved bushes to large, towering trees placed in between with the precision of a mathematician. And above it all, farther off in the distance, a castle loomed, large and glorious and magnificent, flags of the nation towering from spires and sunlight reflecting from any one of the many windows that adorned the castle's inner court, creating the illusion of a sparkling, glittering creature straight from the fairy tales so often taught to young children at bedtime.
The land was fertile and its people were happy, yet as the dark-haired youth moved through its crowds, she could only look from one person to the next. Is it true? She wondered. Do all these people know from where it is that their good fortune arises from? How can they be so happy?
I don't understand…
The young woman continued to wander the streets, locked in thought as she tried to reason out a decision that was growing more and more apparent the longer she roamed.
The sun was setting by the time she returned home.
Her father was in his study, and it was there she left him, her movements the soft and silent glide of a phantom as she moved up the stairs and into the room she called her own. Like the rest of the house, it too had the look of a rich merchant's quarters; elegant tapestries adorning the walls, bookshelves filled to the brim with paper works and elegant dressers filled with lavish dresses and gowns stood side-by-side against one wall, and a grand and wonderful bed aligned one corner, staring out a window that gave way to a balcony.
The woman bit her lip, moving to her closet and withdrawing a large travel bag.
She'd made her decision.
The traveler hummed quietly to herself as she wandered the old path, near invisible in the encroaching darkness and surrounding trees of the forest she traversed. Dressed in traveling robes more befitting a priestess then a wanderer, the brown haired woman traversed the landscape with all the ease of a cat, her footfall light and soundless on the debris-littered forest floor. Only a small lamp, hanging from the top of a walking stick, lit her path-the forest canopy above so thick that not even the stars and the moon could find a breakage to help illuminate her path.
The forest was far from dead in the grand darkness however; all around her, she could hear the rustle of bushes as some nocturnal creature darted to or from her light. Above her head came the screech of an owl, and off in the distance, a pack of wolves sang a hunter's chorus. The nights various songs made her smile, and almost as if sensing her joy, the brush on either side of her trail seemed to grow as if by magic, reaching a point where her body brushed with their leaves.
The woman giggled as the forest's actions, reaching a hand out and running it through the various bushes and over the wood of the trees. "Yes, yes…you're all fine and wonderful children." She cooed lovingly. "But you should calm yourselves. These trails are needed for Man to traverse. If you hide them, he will not think twice to cut you down."
The bushes seemed to shudder and the trees seemed to groan at the woman's words, and again she found her movements unrestricted by overly-friendly flora. "Now, now, don't be like that." She gently scolded. "That does not mean you still cannot flourish in your home." She said. "Live and grow strong. Do not let another hold your life back." She patted a tree that looked to have become the home for a termite colony gently, and from its branches, leaves blossomed with life. "You all need to be strong if you wish to live, no matter what you are. So please, continue with your work."
She bowed to the old tree that was slowly dying, and watched the elder spirit that was attached to its branches smile in thanks in return. "Now if you'll please excuse me, I need to be off. I'm growing late for an appointment." That said, Belldandy turned away and back to her trail, the hum that had come to a stop with her conversation reigniting into a song for the forest to hear, a smile on her face that only grew larger as her ears picked up the song of the local spirits joining in chorus with her.
It was as Belldandy exited the forest that she came across another traveler.
Dressed in gowns that spoke of a rich city life rather than the more durable dresses of travelers, the young woman approached with a back swung across her back and a lantern in hand, stubbornly making her way down the hill and into the valley the forest Belldandy had just departed dwelled within. Surprised to see another traveler on so late a night, both woman paused a short distance from each other, examining one another curiously.
It was Belldandy who spoke first. "Oh my, I never expected to see another person out so late tonight." She said merrily. "Please, if you don't mind, you might not have happened to travel through Omelas, have you? I'd been trying to get there, but it seems my sense of direction is still a little bad and I ended up in the wrong area."
Blinking in surprise, the young woman before her replied, "Omelas? You wish to go to Omelas?" She'd never seen another person from the world outside enter her kingdom-when she was younger, she'd grown up believing there was nothing else outside Omelas, that the kingdom was the Eden locked up and hidden from the rest of the world. "Yes…yes, I know of Omelas. I had just departed from the kingdom come three hours ago by the trail you walk now." She looked curiously at Belldandy. "If…you don't mind my asking, Priestess, what business do you have in the kingdom of Omelas?"
Belldandy's smile was both fond and sad all at once. "I have an appointment in Omelas." She said. "With someone who calls to me in his dreams." Her eyes grew distant, and the young woman wondered what it was the traveling priestess was thinking of. "He seems so sad, that one. As though he's never known happiness since the moment he was born." The brunette shook her head, and her eyes returned to the young woman once more. "And you? Where might you be off to, Miss?"
The youth shook her head, a frown on her face as she recalled a truth revealed to her that very day. One who's never known happiness? I wonder if she's speaking of That One…"I'm…not sure." She replied. "Only that I came upon the truth that all I once knew was a lie, and was given the option to continue living that lie or leave and seek out my own truth. I decided to leave." She returned her gaze to Belldandy. "Ah…you wouldn't happen to know of any town or cities that might be near here, would you?"
So this is one who walks away from Omelas… "Yes as a matter of fact, if you follow this trail through the forest and head east towards the mountains at the fork in the road, you might come across a small city about a two day's walk from here." Belldandy replied, grinning as she watched the girl-woman's eyes light up in joy. Reaching out, she grabbed hold of the girl's free hand and gently squeezed it. "Just be sure to stay on the trail." She said. "The roads can be dangerous if you stray from their paths, but no harm shall come to you if you stay on the main road." The blue eyed woman squeezed the youth's hands once more, and the spell was over, Belldandy withdrawing the residue magic from the woman and returning it to herself.
With that, the goddess bowed to the woman. "Take care of yourself." She said, straightening once more. "And may your life be filled with the blessings of this world." Her own blessings bestowed upon the young woman-a person just entering the stages of adulthood and ignorant of the cruelties it had to offer, one who'd decided to live her own life rather than the life bestowed upon her by a wish-Belldandy departed, setting out for the long trek to Omelas, the very kingdom the girl had walked away from and to the one person who's cries went unheard by all but the gods themselves.
He'd been born without a voice.
The Ones He Knew claimed they'd been burned away at birth, destroyed by the healing flame that had taken the life of the king, had given the queen the strength to bare his body. They said it was one of the many Marks upon his head he was due to bare, from the moment he was born and up until the day he finally passed.
And he believed them. It was what he'd been told his entire life.
It was why he lived away from The Ones He Knew, where it was dark and rank, his sole light the dim glow of embers from an old hearth that refused to die. It was why his walls were surrounded with cold iron bars and his bed was little more than a cold slab of stone covered with a blanket eaten by moths. It was why his food tasted of rot and his stomach twisted with hunger and body stank of a sickness that would not leave.
It was why The Ones He Knew beat him, screamed at him, tortured him to the point where his pain was so great he could not bare to move.
For he was Azazel, they'd told him. And he was worthless.
With every cry of pain, a family ate, the food so vast and so great that not one member would have the chance to grow hungry before the meal was gone. For every night he slept, alone and shivering and cold on a slab of stone that held no warmth, a mother, safe and warm in a bed, gave birth to her child, strong and healthy and blossoming with life and potential. For every slap, every punch, every beating, shout, assault made upon his body, a merchants sold his goods, a farmer harvested the best crops of the season, children learned to read and write, and not one person grew hungry nor poor.
And so he continued his suffering, known for only a brief moment within the lives of those he served, only to be forgotten in their own continued happiness.
For he was Azazel, they told him. And he was their prince.
Yet for all his wearisome life, he found himself not entirely alone in his misfortune.
For within his cell, unknown by all but one, another entity lived.
A cat, it had lived with him for as far back as his beaten memory could serve, appearing from the dying embers of the lone hearth that proved to be one of his few sources of heat. A thin and scrawny little beast, its mangy coat was covered in the ashes of embers, marring its golden coat a ghostly pale whenever he saw it.
And now, alone and away from The Ones He Knew, it came once more, sending up a cloud of ash as it removed itself from the warmth of the embers in favor for the cool cell that was his own. Lying on his bed, he watched it approach, trotting to his side with a dead rat in its mouth. Without invitation, it leaped up on top the slab, before moving to his head, where it deposited its cargo in front of his face before curling up into a small ball near his shoulder.
It watched with golden eyes as he snatched the rat with all the desperation of the starved, before he tore into it, fur and bone and meat and blood, and began to devour it, until nothing save for the cooled blood that covered his mouth, that covered his hands, his bed, remained. And with it, some of his hunger abated, and a small spark of what might have passed for happiness, rose in his heart.
The gift devoured and his belly less empty then was the norm, the youth curled around the cat, indulging it the heat that was its small body and stroking its fur with fingers covered in grime and with all the carefulness of a creature made of glass. It was in such a state he slept, covered in dirt and grime and the ash of a cat, where he found some sense of peace.
Yet with his peace…
A mother went down to her cupboards in the hopes of finding some grain for bread, only to open them to an infestation of rats. A butcher's meat locker was unlocked, only to discover a hole in the far back wall where some small animal had entered, devouring portions of meat and ruining what remained. A family grew sick with a poisoning of food from mice that had nibbled away at the food they had stored away.
And just as their forgotten prince, locked away in a dungeon deep within the walls of a grand castle, so too did their cries go unheard, undiscovered by one and all the reasons behind their misfortune.
Unheard by all but one, who's ears perked up at the sound of their cries, deep within the bowls of a castle, curled up under the chin of the one it watched with golden eyes.
Even in the darkness of the night, Omelas was a grand place to be. As Belldandy walked through its outer walls surrounded by guards who nodded to her kindly before waving her through, the more nocturnal members of its society wandered about, some in pairs, some in groups, some alone, filling the air with the laughter of street performers and the smell of one person's supper, another's breakfast, all illuminated under the light of the stars and moon and the torch fire hanging from balconies over her head.
"This place is amazing." Belldandy murmured appreciably to herself, her voice all but drowned out under the dull roar of the surrounding people. "I've never seen a group of mortals so prosperous before." She said. "Is this truly where I'm to find my first contract?"
Nothing but the continued mutter of the people surrounding her answered her query, and so the young woman continued on her path.
It had been her first task as a goddess with a newly-attained first-class license. Assigned to her by her mentor, Celestine, as a way to test and challenge her new-found abilities, it was her first time within the third-dimensional plane. As such, so too had it been the first time Belldandy had ever used a gate, and so, as was due to happen every now and then with those newly descended, Belldandy had gotten the coordinates of her client off by one degree, and had ended up in the neighboring village rather than the kingdom she'd been intending to land in.
The village, used to seeing the odd dress of the many travelers who wandered through its streets from one major city to the next, didn't even bother questioning her outlandish outfit, and had in fact been rather helpful in directing her towards where Omelas was located. In hindsight, Belldandy could consider herself lucky-the client's profile guaranteed he'd be going nowhere fast, so there was no chance, no matter how late she was, that she'd miss him in any way. And there wasn't any sort of time limit on the client either, as some gods liked to place on their younger subordinates-only that the client had been in the system for a wish 'from the moment he was born'.
And while Belldandy had been uncertain the reason behind that due to a classification she'd not been read into, Celestine had assured her that she'd gain more than an explanation when she finally came upon the youth.
Somehow, as much as she respected her mentor, his words filled her with an unease that made her near nauseous.
Yet the god had never lead her astray, and so she trusted his words, placing her faith behind the one man that had grown more a father to her than the one she shared blood with, and descended, determined to show Celestine that the trust placed within her had been well-placed. Still…For one so new such as I to be assigned to such a person…I'm not even allowed to read his profile, and their sending me to grant his wish? I am honored to have been selected for this mission, yet at the same time…I feel it might have been more beneficial for one more experienced to go…or at the very least, someone with a high enough clearance to know this person's profile.
Belldandy allowed herself a soft sigh and a gentle shake of the head at the follies of Heaven before returning her attention to the present. Even with her thoughts distracted, her body still seemed to know where it was the brunette needed to go, and so the goddess blinked as her eyes focused upon the elaborate gate before her, barring the woman from further entrance.
The gate to the inner courtyard of the castle, its bars reached high above her head, the metal so thick that her fingers barely touched as she wrapped her hands around the black bars. Various spirals and patterns and flowers lay interwoven into the metal's design with an artisan's master hand. Through the gate, Belldandy spied the inner courtyard, with gardens intertwined with marble walkways leading to the castle's doors.
And it was through those doors that she would find the one who called to her.
The goddess took a step back, looking to either side of the large gate and taking note of the two guards stationed on either side of her. A simple desire to remain unnoticed had left the duo blind to the goddess at their sides, and so it was they remained, expressions of stone underneath helmets of iron, eyes darting from one passer-by who traversed past the gate to the next without taking note of the one so close to them. Belldandy smiled fondly to the duo, and then leaped into the air, bounding over the iron gates and landing on the other side as though the great barricade was little more than a fallen log to jump over.
That done, the goddess continued onward, through the courtyard and past the doors, moving into a castle who's occupants held the one soul to bear the burden of its people.
It was strange, the way she sought him out, this person whose voice had reached the ears of heaven. It was the red string of fate that led Belldandy in the right direction. Since she'd entered the city, it had been the first thing the goddess had noticed-everyone, from the babes in their mother's arms to the elderly walking by with canes, one and all had a red string of energy tied to their finger.
It had alarmed Belldandy at first, for usually such strings of energy-while not uncommon amongst the mortals of the third plane-were not connected to each other to the degree she saw nor so vibrant that they glowed like fresh embers from a fire in her eyes. Nor was any one string connected to one couple and one couple alone, such as was the case with the occasional soul mate or the friend one might die for. No…these many strings all lead in one direction, weaving and intertwining within each other and creating a spool of yarn, one that grew continuously thicker the closer Belldandy came to the castle, the closer she came to her client.
It was an anomaly, for surely there had never in her time as a goddess been a human capable of touching the lives of so many. What was the reason behind such an event?
A part of her wondered if perhaps she should report such a phenomenon to the proper authorities of Heaven. Obviously this was not the work of someone on the lesser planes. Only those who resided on the tenth-dimension were capable of such a feat, and now, following the large spool of red energy, growing thicker and larger with the more people she passed inside the castle itself, Belldandy could only wonder if, at the end of such magic, she'd find her client at its source.
It grew less populated the further Belldandy wandered into the castle. The more she traveled, the less she saw of the castle's inhabitants, even the guards and the servants seeming to vanish into some far away land the deeper she went, and not for the first time, Belldandy wondered if perhaps she'd wandered through some tear in the fabric of the world she was in and had wandered unintentionally into another.
It wouldn't have been the first.
Yet the path of red hadn't vanished, and so Belldandy could only assume that she was still within the right world, for surely she wouldn't have been sent to the current realm if the person she was searching for dwelled within another.
The goddess came to a pause in front of a door, unnoticed and in a state of disrepair that seemed to scream to the locals 'stay away'. The path of red had disappeared beyond the door, and with a soft frown, Belldandy reached to grasp the handle. Visions assaulted her mind as fingers grazed metal, and the woman gasped as a thick wave of negative energy swept through her consciousness. The brunette drew her hand back as though bitten, and for several seconds Belldandy simply stared at the handle, suddenly certain of where her quarry lay, yet uncertain if she dare continue with the amount of negativity that rested on the handle of the door.
If such monstrous afterimages rested on the handle of a door, then what demons might she find behind it and with the entity that dwelled within?
Yet was she not a goddess first-class? Was it not her duty to seek out those just like the one who must be behind such negativity and give them a chance of hope? Was this not what a goddess such as herself was tasked for?
The answer was simple, one she could hear echo with the beat of her heart.
And so it was, with a deep breath, Belldandy grasped the handle of the door once more and turned it, opening the door and stepping into a darkness that seemed to welcome her with open arms.
It took several long minutes for Belldandy's eyes to adjust to the darkness that suddenly assaulted her vision as the door snapped shut behind her. Several more minutes before the young woman came to realize that for all the darkness in the room she'd stepped into, there was an actual source of light by which to see by.
Carefully, the goddess maneuvered her way through the room, which was not a room at all, she found, but a cell, ones whose entrance stood at the top of a once great and grand staircase, now degraded and decrepit, filled with footholds that would threaten to kill a man if granted the opportunity.
The woman descended the staircase, using an otherworldly intuition and no small amount of magic to safely traverse the crumbling stairwell without incident and safely navigating to the bottom floor.
And it was on the bottom floor, held deep within a cell of iron bars and stone walls, where Belldandy found the source of red threads of fate and the one who was to be her client all in one hellishly cursed moment.
At first glance, Belldandy was not even aware that the glowing mass of tangled red held a person within its knots; the threads so fine and so thick and tangled they near hid the person from her divine eyes. A second glance revealed a small spark of life that was the person's life force, yet even then, it took the woman's bright blue eyes several minutes before they could properly adjust, revealing the form that had been hidden from the goddess at first glance.
A boy…no-a man-curled up in a cell, his clothes worn and thin and covered in dirt and grime and filled with holes, revealing pallid skin whose bone protruded like hideous spires. Bruises and cuts, swollen and rimmed with the yellow of infection, covered what skin she could see, and his hair-black with dirt and muck and the heavens knew what else, hung limply in a face who's cheekbones grew taunt against skin drawn too thin. He laid on an overly large piece of stone, one which looked to have fallen from the ceiling in older days, on top of an old strip of cloth not fit even for the stay dogs that roamed the streets at night. Asleep, his body was curled up into a small, tight ball, a vain effort to draw some sense of warmth from itself against an environment that remained a steady and constant cool.
Horrified by the sight before her, Belldandy found she could do little but raise a hand to her mouth in shock, the rest of her body frozen in place at the sight before her. What was this? This was the one to be her client? How could somebody be so cruel to one of their own kind?
As if in answer to her question, above her head a door opened, and the soft murmur of voices gradually rose in chorus. Torchlight filled the air above her head, and as the new people descended the staircase and the light grew brighter, Belldandy moved to push herself against a nearby wall, effectively hiding herself from the ones approaching and staying out of any path they might take that might cause them to walk through her.
It was three men who approached the cell, their leader holding the torch whose light shown down upon the youth's small frame. The young prisoner grimaced as the light hit his face and curled into a tighter ball, burying his face in his arms in an effort to drown out the brightness of the torch. Perhaps annoyed by the lack of response from their approach, perhaps just angry in general, the trio scowled at the young man.
"Azazel!" One of the men snapped. "Wake-up! Is this any way to show respect to the ones who care for you? Get up fool-boy!"
Startled awake by the angry voice, the youth, Azazel, jumped, rising with the wake of an animal sensing a threat. Cautious, nervous brown eyes stared from within the swollen black eyes he wore like make-up darted from one man to the next before focusing on the man with the torch, bringing a hand up to shadow his eyes.
Uncertain of the happenings of the room she currently found herself in, Belldandy dared little 'sides observe, wanting to see just what the trio of men before her had planned for the caged youth before making any rash decisions.
Having now gained the boy's attention, the man continued speaking. "It's time for you to eat." He growled out, reaching into his tunic and withdrawing a ring of keys. "Stand back."
Already pressed against the stone wall his bed rested against, Azazel did little in the ways of movement, though from where Belldandy watched, she did catch the tensing of shoulders, as though expecting some attack from the owner of the keys. The gate door slid open with an iron groan, and the trio entered, one man staying to guard the entryway while the other two moved further inwards, the leader providing a guiding light to his companion.
They came to a halt in the center of the room, and from within the folds of the large robe he wore, one man withdrew a metal container. An indistinguishable smell wafted to Belldandy's nose, and as she scrunched her nose up at the scent, the man kneeled to place the container on the ground before rising again to his full height.
And it was as he rose that the cat made its move, erupting from the glowing embers of the old hearth with a yowl that startled all those present and making a bee line for the food that had been placed on the ground. Shouts and curses filled the air as the small beast darted in between legs, snatching what looked to be a half-eaten chicken bone from the container before bolting for Azazel, who, with a cry of his own heard by none but the gods, opened his arms to catch the stray as it leaped to him.
"How did a cat get in here?"
"Grab it! Don't let the beast escape!"
As the cries of his prison keepers filled the room, Azazel caught the cat with expecting arms, wheeling around to turn his back to his keepers and using his body as a shield against the two men. As the cat watched on with molten gold eyes, the one closest to him-the man without the torch, grabbed the youth roughly by the shoulder, yanking Azazel from his stone bed and throwing him to the floor.
The young man hit the ground with a mute scream, losing his grip on the mangy beast in his arms as pain flared up in his back. The cat erupted from his arms with a yowl, darting away from its protector and through the legs of one assailant, making a mad dash for the hearth from which it had arisen from.
The food-bearer wheeled to face the creature as it darted underneath him, and nearly paid for it as he lost his balance, stumbling with a curse as he fought to reclaim it. Dark eyes drifted to the one that was his charge, and a snarl appeared on his face. "Azazel! You-"
The torch-bearer interrupted him before he could go further. "Never mind the boy!" He snapped, chasing after the cat and to the hearth it seemed so desperate to reach. "Grab the cat!" He swung his torch down upon the small animal, and the cat shrieked as flame scalded fur, diverting its path from its goal in a desperate effort to escape the fire. Its course changed, the beast instead turned to the threshold of the gate, where the third and final man stood, posed and ready. Yet the cat continued unabated by the intimidating figure, and with fur carting wisps of smoke a shade similar to the ash that coated its body, the creature continued forward.
Darting to the opening between the man's legs, using much the same tactic it had used beforehand, it looked for a brief moment that the small creature might escape the prison and whatever cruelties the trio of men had planned for it. Despite herself, Belldandy felt her heart jump into her throat, quietly rooting for the little cat's escape. Yet right before it could cross between the two limbs, a fist came down upon its small body, and the cat shrieked as its body was pinned between the floor and the hand.
Belldandy gasped at the action, bringing her hands to cover her mouth in shock and stepping forward as though to protest the action."Stop!" The goddess cried, only to find no response to her demand, none save a pair of golden eyes that suddenly focused on the sapphire blue with a clarity that startled the woman, and then again only to close shut in a shriek of a yowl as the fist that had pinned it moved with its sibling to wrap around the cat, raising it from the ground none-too-gently as the man that had caught the beast moved into the cell with his colleagues.
Had they not heard her? Why was it that only the cat had responded to her call and not the humans that had captured it? Frowning, the woman stepped forth once more, another demand on her lips that died as she smashed into an invisible barrier.
Startled and confused at the sudden boundary, Belldandy stepped back, rubbing away the numbing tingle of magic that had assaulted her nose when she'd crashed into the invisible wall. "What in the Almighty's name?" She breathed, a hand reaching out and gaining the same tingle that had attacked her nose. The brunette withdrew her hand from the barrier, rubbing the tingle from her flesh and staring through the invisible wall and to the scene beyond, bemused and alarmed at what she was witnessing.
Shifting his grip to hold the cat by the scruff of its neck, the guardsman approached the inside group, holding his cargo at an arm's length to prevent any scratches or lucky bites. The creature captured, the torchbearer turned back to his charge, who still lay rested on the floor, the youth seemingly incapable of drawing the energy needed to rise up and face the trio of surrounding men. "Azazel, what is this?" The torchbearer demanded, waving his free hand in front of the captive cat, who, with a hiss, swiped at him and drew a thin scratch across his hand.
The torchbearer drew away with a snarl, shaking his hand in pain as he looked down at Azazel. "What are you doing with a cat Azazel?" He demanded. "Do you not know the danger that could befall us if we allowed a cat with you boy? The disaster that could strike?" The man stepped in front of the cat holder, blocking the youth's view of the creature and whatever fate might befall it.
Two pairs of eyes met.
"You know what could happen if we allowed you to keep this cat Azazel."
The filthy youth opened his mouth in a silent and desperate plea, rolling onto his stomach and pushing himself to his hands and knees with a strength he didn't have, crawling to the torchbearer and grasping the leggings of his outfit. Yet the man gently shoved the youth off with his free foot, stepping back and allowing the cat and its captor once more into the youth's gaze. "You know what must be done, Azazel."
The man looked behind him to his companion, ignoring the widening eyes, the horrified expression that dawned of a face of desperation.
A hand moved to wrap around the cat's neck, and as though sensing its demise, the cat shrieked once more, thrashing against the man that was its captor in a desperate bid to escape. Yet like before it was all for naught, and as the hand tightened around its throat, the shriek was abruptly cut off. Then came the sound of a sickening snap, and the man tossed the limp body of the cat down next to Azazel's side, its eyes, glazed and dark and lifeless, gazing up at him from a head held at an unnatural angle against its broken neck.
His body shaking with emotion that was more than just sorrow, Azazel released his grip from the torchbearer's leggings, instead moving to gently cradle the broken body of the cat in his arm, burying his face in dirty fur that had once held the heat of life, now quickly growing cold in his arms no matter how tightly he clutched it. The youth lifted his face from its fur, his face covered in ash, and tilted his head back in a mourning howl of grief, one that went unheard by the three men before him, yet rang agonizingly clear in Belldandy's heart.
"No!" Belldandy screamed in response, her magic flaring dangerously around her as the grief that was her client fell upon her own soul, weeping for the one creature that had ever shown the youth any sort of compassion.
And it was with her cry that four pairs of eyes turned to meet her own glittering sapphires, whatever barrier that had hidden her having disappeared with the passing of the cat, leaving her fully exposed to the men before her.
"What in the-"
"Who are yo-"
Yet not one of the three caretakers had a chance to finish their questions, the goddess blinded by the sorrow that had assaulted her heart so greatly that, as her magic flared out and open, it lashed out at them, where the trio disappeared in a whirlwind of blue.
Far to the south, in a village beset with the ravages of war and a people who'd lost all their men of age to a ruthless battle, a small group of women sat, praying to the heavens that God might take mercy upon them. And as if in response to their prayers, from the heavens came three shouts of terror. The women looked up, just in time to see three men fall from the sky and into the lake they used for water and bath, rising to the surface couching and cursing.
The women stared at the men, then to each other, then to the heavens above.
"It's raining men!" One of the women shouted.
"Halleluiah!" Cried another.
The trio of caretakers gone, Belldandy felt whatever demon that had so briefly possess her vanish, and in its place came concern, staring down at the dirty youth before her with a soft frown. The youth in question, Azazel, stared back with terror-ridden brown eyes, clutching the dead body of the cat tight to his body as he scrambled away from her. The goddess froze where she stood, unwilling to approach any further with the panic that so filled the youth.
Instead she called out to him, hoping to ease his nerves. "Please…don't be afraid." She said. "I am not here to hurt you…I'm here to help you. I'm here to grant you a wish." Her voice was soft and soothing, and any fear Azazel felt towards the stranger began to melt away. Yet still he kept his distance, refusing to approach her even as she took first one step, then another step towards him.
"Please…." Belldandy continued. "Won't you hear what I have to say?" She asked, offering a hand to the young man, who stared at it as though it were a snake, posed and ready to strike.
He doesn't want to listen to you.
It was a new voice, harsh and jagged to the ears and causing both mortal and goddess to jump. Belldandy quickly withdrew her hand, her head swerving left and right as she sought out the owner of the voice, while likewise, Azazel's eyes darted around the room, eyes bright with an ever-dawning panic in a search of their own.
And within his arms, still clutched tightly to his chest, the cat's head rocked lazily to one side, one golden eye, its pupil dilating and contracting as it focused on Belldandy's form. The creature squirmed in Azazel's arms, and with a start the lad dropped the cat, where it felt with a soft 'thump' to the ground, little more than a corpse once more. Yet as the young man scurried away from the body and Belldandy focused her attention on it, the cat twitched once more, rising with an unsteady gate to its feet. It staggered to and fro on a sense of balance that had been lost, and its head hung limp against its body as it stared up at her. Azazel has ears for me only… Its voice was a hiss in her mind, and as Belldandy stared at the creature in horror, its body began to change.
Bones ground together in pops and grinds and snaps, and as its body began to grow, fur stretching and bristling against a body growing so big for it that it seemed it might tear as beneath, muscles and sinews elongated and shortened. Its face began to flatten, its muzzle shortening into a more humanoid form as golden eyes began to darken to red. Its neck began to straighten from its broken angle, and then the fur that covered its body did rip, a sickening shrrurrp that made Belldandy's stomach do backflips. Underneath the torn fur, exposed pink muscle flexed before being covered once more with pale flesh as hair a shade similar to its torn fur sprouted in thick curls from its head.
Belldandy, her hands to her mouth and her eyes wide with horror, found herself capable of voicing only one word.
Where once the corpse of a cat had lain, its body possessed with an unnatural strength, in its place a demon rested, nude save for the small remaining bits of golden fur that clung to her body.
The demon cracked her neck, grimacing slightly as she rubbed the back of an appendage that had once been broken. "There's got to be a better way of Shifting than that." She muttered, before directing her attention to Belldandy once more. The blonde grinned, revealing elongated fangs that seemed to have only grown longer now that Marller was no longer in the form of a cat. "Well hello to you too, Belldandy." She purred, taking a step towards the goddess on feet that went unheard on the stone floor.
Belldandy, likewise, took a step back, keeping the distance between herself and the red-eyed woman before her. "Marller…you…you're…"
The demon's grin grew smug, shifting her step at an angle, leading Belldandy into a dance of tension as Belldandy mimicked the action, the duo circling each other in the small, barred cell. "I'm what Belldandy?" She asked. "The one behind those red strings of fate? The reason behind this realm's prosperity? Perhaps the one who has hidden Azazel's existence from the heavens for so long?" She queried, the smile she wore growing into a feral predator's grin as red remained locked with blue.
Yet Belldandy shook her head to Marller's words, biting her lip as though unwilling to say what it was that was on the tip of her tongue.
"No?" Marller asked, raising an eyebrow in amusement at the goddess's reaction. "What is it then?"
Across from her, still continuing to follow in the slow waltz the two forces had fallen into, Belldandy took a deep breath, closing her eyes and releasing it with a calming sigh. Opening them once more, she said, "Marller…you're naked."
The demon stumbled over her own two feet at the comment, so unexpected it was, and nearly fell flat on her face in consequence. Quickly regaining her balance, the demon glared at the goddess, for a brief second at a loss of any sort of response to the woman.
And then the demon scowled. "Yes Belldandy, I'm naked." She snapped, their dance at a halt as the demon raised a hand above her head and snapped her fingers. A swirl of colors appeared around the demon's body in a whirlwind, shifting and changing across her form before finally seeming to settle on one particular pattern before coming to a rest on her in the form of clothing. Properly adorned once more, the demon glared at her goddess counterpart. "Unfortunately, the Daimakaicho has yet to find any one right way for a demon to Shift forms that would allow something as simple as clothing to follow." She grumbled. "But we're getting off target here."
The demon's red gaze drifted away from Belldandy's and turned instead to Azazel who, with the changing of the cat's form into the demon woman before him, had run to crouch at his bed, trying hard and failing to become as noticeable as the stone he slept upon on a nightly basis.
The demon continued her conversation even as the youth caught her attention, turning away from Belldandy in favor of the young man. "You see Belldandy, I can probably guess why you're here-a person like you wouldn't show up simply out of pity for a soul who'd been treated so poorly from the moment he was born." Marller risked a glance over her shoulder at the goddess, who remained silent, neither confirming nor denying the demon's claim. "So that must mean you're here to grant him a wish-congratulations on your license by the way-and that simply won't work."
She looked back to Azazel, catching his look and coming to a halt several feet away from him. The woman then kneeled down, crouching in front of the lad and looking very much the cat Belldandy had just seen her as. "You see…I've been with Azazel since he was born." She tilted her head at an angle, catching Belldandy's eyes with a single red orb. "You might say I'm his…guardian demon, in a sense."
Marller turned her red gaze back to the lad, and then stretched an arm out in offering to the youth. As the young man flinched away at her movement, she said, "Azazel…come now, it's me." Her voice, despite the rough texture Belldandy had always associated with the demon, was surprisingly calm and gentle, something that seemed out of place coming from the blonde. "It's alright. The only thing that's changed about me is my form. I'm still the same one who brought you food and kept you warm all those nights. There's nothing to be afraid of."
And to Belldandy's amazement, the youth seemed to believe the demon's words, Azazel actually seemed to believe Marller's words, going beyond the acceptance of her offered hand and instead stumbling and falling into arms that suddenly found themselves open, a cry on lips that went unheard and tears falling down his cheeks. The demon returned the embrace, wrapping her own arms around his frail form and running her fingers through hair that was thick with grime. "Hey now…it's alright…there's no reason for you to be like that…you'd think I'd died or something." The fanged woman smiled down at the young man. "It's alright Azazel. I'm here for you so you don't have to worry anymore." She continued running her fingers through his hair, only now Belldandy could see the red glow of her magic descend with her fingers. "So just relax and go to sleep…"
A demon's spell gently rocking him to sleep, it was as Azazel's breathing calmed that Marller once more let her gaze drift to Belldandy. "See? This one belongs to me Belldandy. The best thing you could do right now is turn around and walk straight back through the door you came into." Her smile was cruel and vicious, yet Belldandy, a goddess who'd had several experiences with the demon in the past, refused to allow it to affect her.
Instead the goddess drew closer, moving to sit on the cool stone slab that Marller leaned her back against, her arms full of a mortal deep within the confines of sleep. "Marller…I can't do that." She said. "His profile came up within Heaven's registry, and I was assigned to give him a wish. I can't leave until I've granted him that much." She looked from Marller to the lad in her lap, her expression thoughtful. "You mentioned before that you've known this person-Azazel-from the moment he was born?" Blue darted to red once more. "Marller, how is that so? Is it out of your own free will? Or is there a contract that was never mentioned that has bound you to this boy's side?"
The demon snorted in amusement at the goddess's words, causing Belldandy to fall silent once more, the brunette sensing an explanation rising on the tip of her companion's tongue. Leaning her head against the stone slab that was Azazel's bed, Marller's gaze drifted to the ceiling, focusing on no one thing in particular as she spoke. "Hey Belldandy." She said. "Did you know that this kingdom had been selected for destruction a long time ago by your boss?" Red eyes flickered to Belldandy's, and catching the goddesses shocked expression, she grinned. "It's true you know. About…I don't know…sixteen, maybe eighteen years ago, this entire kingdom was supposed to have been destroyed by famine and disease."
Dark brows furrowed together in confusion. "This kingdom?" She asked. "But how can that be? This land is so prosperous, so healthy and filled with life! Azazel is perhaps the only person I've seen within this realm that has suffered any sort of grievances." She said. "How could the Almighty have wanted to destroy it?"
Another snort from Marller, this one of disdain rather than amusement. "Because all those years ago, this land was not the one you know now. Back then, it was well on its way to destroying itself, just as the Almighty had seen fit. But their old king-a stubborn old bastard who couldn't take the hint to just roll over and die-refused to let his kingdom disappear." The blonde sighed, running a hand through her own hair before realizing it was caked with the dirt and muck of Azazel's body, and cursing violently for her absentmindedness.
"Anyways, the old fart just kept praying and praying for someone, and because I had contracts in a neighboring village, I ended up being the one to hear his pleas." She frowned as she caught Belldandy's expression, and waved a finger at the goddess in disapproval. "Oh come on Belldandy." She snapped. "Don't go jumping to conclusions like that-even demons like us are warned away from areas that are slated for destruction under the Almighty's will. Even we know when a people have destroyed the land to the point where it's beyond repair. Those areas are like cancer cells-they need to be destroyed before they have a chance to spread beyond control. Believe it or not, in things like that, demons are no different than gods-humans will always return, but if you kill the land, nothing can benefit from it."
"But you need to realize something…this king, since he started, all he'd ever do was pray for some salvation or something similar. Day and night, every freaking minute he was awake until it reached the point where the bastard was praying in his sleep. With something like that, you can't ignore it, no matter what you do to drown out the noise."
"What did you do then?"
"I got fed up with him. I finally decided to see what the hell it would take to get him to shut up."
"And what was it he wanted?"
Another sigh from the demon at her feet. "That old fart wanted his kingdom saved and to grow prosperous."
Belldandy's eyes widened in shock. "And you granted it to him?" She demanded. "Marller, if what you said was true, why would you have done such a thing? How could you? When all the heavens and even the land itself would be in a revolt against its very existence?"
The demon shrugged, slit pupils darting to the ceiling as she grew lost in some past memory once more. "He was insistent." She said. "And so I decided to humor him. The man told me he'd give me not only his life, but the life of his unborn heir as well if it meant his kingdom would be saved. Could you imagine? To sell the life of your own child without even knowing its gender yet? And to save a land already marked for destruction by the very deity you worship?"
Ruefully the blonde shook her head, sending thick curls tumbling to and fro. "It was such a ridiculous wish that I sent it to the Daimakaicho just to see if she'd get a laugh out of it-no one in their right mind would agree to the circumstances the contract fell under." This time Marller laughed, dry and bitter. "Yet when has the Daimakaicho ever been in her right mind? That woman returned it to me with an approved contract, an edited final draft filled with small changes that would need to be made before it could be fulfilled."
"His kingdom would be saved. As payment he would give his life up in exchange for his child, who was destined to die in the womb of a mother who wouldn't live long enough to give birth. And that child would bear the burden of its people. Everyone of a proper age would learn of the truth and would be given an option-continue living a life of leisure under one person who suffered for their enjoyment, or leave and try to live on their own accords in another place."
Another shrug from the demon followed by a smile that seemed more a baring of teeth then an actual grin. "The Daimakaicho is a clever demon, Belldandy. Never you forget that. You could say that this entire kingdom and all its inhabitants belong to the demon-kin." She said. "Because the happiness of this kingdom was made under a demon's contract, any positive energy is automatically sent to Niflhiem and converted for our own use. Yet at the same time, the suffering of this boy you see in my arms is also, if by nothing but default of negativity, sent to our realm."
"Because the citizens of this kingdom are all informed of the going-ons within this cell and still choose to stay, they are actively committing a sin, and thus fall under our reign. This boy is cursed by his own father, a man he never knew, to follow his people's fate once he finally passes on, and when he finally does die, so too with this land crumble, destroyed under the ending of a demon's contract-my contract, and disappearing from this world just as the Almighty had originally intended it."
The woman stared back down at her charge, and what almost passed as an affectionate smile graced her lips. "About the only people in this kingdom I don't have claims to are those too young to be informed of the happenings of this realm and remain free from the sin they are one day due to inherit, and those few noble souls who'd rather live a life free from the continued suffering of one person alone."
The demons stretched her hands high above her head with a grunt, being careful not to jostle the youth in her lap too much. "Ah, but I've said too much already." She said. "To summarize everything up for you Belldandy, I own this kingdom, and every grown man and woman who lives in its shade." Her expression darkened as she looked up at the goddess, and alarm bells went off in Belldandy's ears. "Here's some advice: get out of here. Azazel belongs to me-you aren't going to get a wish out of him, no matter what you do. Not when he falls under my jurisdiction. You, even as a first-class goddess, have no authority here. The best thing you could do is to go home."
Carefully the demon maneuvered herself out from underneath the young man, gently scooping him up in her arms and spreading him out on the slab of stone Belldandy had removed herself from. The goddess herself, sensing a shift in Marller's mood, had carefully maneuvered herself around the blonde's backside, an underlying instinct that screamed 'danger' refusing to allow Belldandy to turn her back to the demon.
The goddess bit her lip, glancing from Azazel's face, who'd grown peaceful in his sleep, perhaps at the reassurance that the cat he'd known for so long wasn't lost to him, to Marller, whose expression held a measure of kindness that seemed out of character of any demon, let alone the woman before her. "Marller…I already told you before I can't simply leave. I need to grant him a wish before I can depart, no matter how simple or complicated it is. You know that just as well as I do." The goddess remained where she stood, hoping to try and reason with the demon before her yet somehow gaining the distinct impression that Marller wasn't going to cooperate with her, no matter what Belldandy said.
She was right. Marller turned to look back at her, and then sighed with a shake of her head. "Yeah, I do know." She said, closing her eyes as though in thought. "I guess…there's only one thing to do, huh?" Red eyes snapped open, and a snarl marred her face. "I'll just have to send you back myself."
A red ball of energy appeared in her hand, and without so much as a second thought, the demon hurled it at the opposing goddess, a sadistic smile on her face that only grew larger as Belldandy gasped, dodging it before it had the opportunity to striker her. The energy hit the bars of the cell, where it exploded, and sending sharp bits of iron shrapnel raining down upon the brunette's head.
"Marller!" Belldandy cried, the air around the blue eyed woman humming as she sought to read out the demon's next attack. "What are you doing? Stop it!" The air was stiff and stale around her, and Belldandy found it difficult to summon her magic, as though the wind currents didn't want to obey her orders. Yet still, somehow the goddess managed to bring them to her side, and as instinct took over, Belldandy threw several high concentrations of the magic at her demonic opponent, the wind high and pressurized with her own magic to the point of appearing as darts, slim and blue and piercing as they flew to their target.
Yet rather than dodge as Belldandy had expected, Marller instead stood where she was, her arm sweeping out across her body and batting the wind blades to the side as though were harmless-blades Belldandy knew from experience had the capability of piercing brick walls and continue going before shattering against their target.
Stunned, the goddess took a step back, the alarm bells within her mind rising to the wail of sirens as a voice in the back of her mind-Holy Bell?-near demanded that she turn tail and run. Yet she ignored the voice, too stubborn to retreat in the presence of an ever-growing threat, too determined to fulfill her role as a goddess first-class and grant the youth behind the demon the wish he'd been entitled since his birth.
Across from her, Marller chuckled dryly. "Sorry Belldandy. But I already told you-I own this kingdom. You're fighting a demon on her own territory. You don't stand a chance." Another ball of energy, red and bright, formed in the demon's hands once more. "It'll take more than a newly promoted goddess to beat me here." Again, the demon flung the energy at the goddess, and again, Belldandy made a move to dodge, however found her movements and reactions slow, limited, as though she was trying to move through molasses.
This time the energy struck true.
And Belldandy's world erupted into a blinding white, and then as suddenly as it came it was over, and in its place came a feeling of weightlessness, the wind whistling around her as she fell. The goddess screamed, blue eyes large and filled with panic as her head whipped left and right, up and down, trying to make some sense of her new surroundings. For gone was the dark and gloomy cell Marller had attacked her in. Gone was the demon, gone was the mortal, and in its place, a blindingly bright blue sky was above her, while below her, looming ever closer, came the ground, green with grass and the blue of a lake.
Too bewildered to even manage to call upon her angel, her magic for guidance, Belldandy struck the lake with a great sploosh, sinking under the surface and submerging deep enough that her feet touched the bottom. The goddess opened her mouth to scream, but only water entered her mouth, invading her throat and filling her lungs. Panic filled her mind, and her heartbeat was a constant echo in ears that burned. Spots began to fill her vision, and she fought to swim to the surface as those spots expanded, darkening her vision and increasing her panic.
And then, just when Belldandy began to think that she wasn't going to make it, something dark swam above her head, blocking out the light of the sun. Something wrapped around her wrist, and suddenly she was being pulled upwards, towards the surface, towards the sky, the sun, the air.
The goddess broke the surface with a choked gasp, and the young woman thrashed at the lake's surface, fighting to keep her head above water as garments heavy with water threatened to pull her under once more. An arm snaked itself around her torso, and suddenly Belldandy found Celestine at her side, a grimace on his face as he sought to support her, treading the water and near demanding that she calm down.
Relief filled her at the sight of her mentor, and even as she coughed and hacked up the remaining water from her lungs, the young woman wrapped her arms around her mentor's neck, where he let her, using his free arm and legs to swim back to the shore. Together, they exited the lakebed, Celestine wrapping both his arms around Belldandy to better support the waterlogged goddess as the water grew shallow, before finally coming to a rest several feet outside the lake's perimeter, carefully setting the goddess down on drier ground before pounding Belldandy's back, hoping to help rid the poor girl of any remaining water still within her lungs.
For several minutes, nothing but the sound of Belldandy's coughs was audible, until even those began to fade, and Belldandy found herself capable of speech once again. "Ce-Celestine?" The woman managed in-between coughs. "Wh-what are…where am I?" More coughs racked her body, and the elder god waited for them to calm before responding.
"You're in Heaven." He said. "I'd been following you through a scrying pool since you departed for your mission. When that demon sent you back here, I rushed to find you." The goddess looked up at the man, dressed in his traditional uniform and looking about as sodden as she herself was.
The man rubbed the younger deity's back, more than a little relieved to hear the coughs further dying away the more Belldandy recovered. "Are you going to be alright?" At Belldandy's nod the deity sighed, bowing his head as though in shame. "Belldandy, I owe you an apology." He said, surprising the young woman at his side. "What you saw back there…that kingdom, the reasons behind its existence…those were the reasons why I wasn't allowed to share with you your client-Azazel's-profile. It was pure luck that we even discovered the kingdom's existence-if not for one lone soul who'd decided to leave and happened to stumble upon a wayward deity, the kingdom of Omelas would have remained hidden from our eyes."
The goddess at his side leaned into him, feeling more than a little exhausted and overwhelmed at the charge placed upon her head. "But then why me Celestine?" Belldandy asked. "Why me over someone with more experience with these kinds of things? Why not someone who already knew Azazel's profile?"
Celestine wrapped an arm comfortingly around Belldandy's shoulders, drawing her close in a one-armed embrace. "Because I wanted you to know. I thought that of any of the deity's in heaven, you'd be the most capable of completing such a task with the least amount of incident. You already knew that demon, and so if there was even a small, remote chance that you might be able to reason something out with her, I thought it was worth the risk rather than sending one of the more violent Valkyries to solve the matter for us. But I did not take into consideration what might happen to you if you were not capable of reasoning with her, and for that matter, I again apologize to you. I should not have sent you into such a delicate situation so blind. Can you forgive me?"
Her mind filled with the events of the past several hours, Belldandy looked up to her mentor, light blue eyes meeting a darker shade of black, and for a brief moment, Celestine's face was replaced with another, one who had eyes a similar dark shade, filthy and covered in grime and watching her in fear. The goddess blinked, and Azazel's face vanished, leaving behind Celestine once more.
"Yes…I forgive you, Celestine." She murmured, breaking his gaze and allowing it to wander to the lake in which she'd landed in. Marller wasn't trying to hurt me. She just wanted to send me home, where I wouldn't invade the world she'd created… The woman looked back up to her mentor. "But what about Azazel then?" She asked. "Are we simply going to leave things the way we are down in the Material Plane? Or are we going to put an end to it?" Belldandy's heart grew heavy as she recalled the state and condition of Azazel's life, and tears began forming at the corners of her eyes. "Celestine…we can't simply leave that boy in the state he's in. There must be something we can do."
The older deity smiled. That's my girl… "Come now Belldandy, don't start tearing up on me yet." He said, a finger moving to wipe away tears that had yet to fall. "You'll make me cry too. But you're right. There is something we can do. And if you're willing, I fully intend to follow through with it."
A day had passed by the time Belldandy returned to the kingdom of Omelas. And this time, she was not alone. At the startled look that dawned in the young woman's eyes at witnessing a world that had been bathed in nightfall not even an hour of her returning to Heaven now bright with the midday sun. "It's because time passes differently in our two planes." Celestine said, walking through the crowded streets of Omelas, watching his young charge's expression change from surprise to understanding at Celestine's explanation.
"I see…" Belldandy murmured, returning her gaze forward and acting as a guide to the man at her side. "Still it feels strange, hopping from one dimensional plane to the next several times in the course of a day. I feel almost as though my sense of reality if lost, like I'm lost inside a dream world."
The smile Celestine wore was one of amusement. "Yes, well…it is advised to wait a certain number of hours before using another gate to shift planes, and I did warn you that you'd feel the side effects if you didn't remain in Heaven for at least five hours."
The goddess at his side gave him an innocent smile, despite any ill side effect she may have been feeling, and the god shook his head. "Such a stubborn child."
Despite the crowds that filled the streets, it took Belldandy less time to navigate the streets to the castle, having already been there once and recalling the path she'd taken from memory. Even less time for the two deity's in question to pass gates that had been opened into the castle corridor for knights and messengers, the duo walking past the two soldiers-a different pair from the ones Belldandy had seen the night prior-without so much as a glance from either side.
The castle was filled with more life then before as well, losing its sense of desertedness that had filled its corridors at night. Yet even with the scenery seeming to have changed with the dawning of a midday sun, the path of red had not, and just as before it guided Belldandy, and now Celestine, to the person-people they were trying to meet.
Despite the signs of life that had roused with the light of day, the room under which Azazel's cell was located in had not changed, and Belldandy realized for the first time that there was no natural source of light within the chamber. Did that mean the youth who was its prisoner had never seen the light of day? Never been touched by the light of the sun? Never felt the warmth of its rays?
The thoughts only further troubled her heart, and dimly the Norn wondered what else had been denied the imprisoned lad.
The youth in question was in much the same position she'd seen upon meeting him at first glance-curled up once more on his stone bed, asleep and ignorant of his newest guests.
Marller was nowhere to be seen.
Belldandy glanced up at her mentor, and the man nodded encouragingly to her. She smiled up at him, taking strength in his presence, before moving to the cell door, locked once more. A quiet spell quickly unlocked the gate, and a soft plea of silence quieted the gate's rusty hinges as the goddess pushed it open. Her steps were silent as the woman approached the sleeping youth, and the woman moved to sit on the edge of the stone, for a moment simply staring down at the young man at her side. "I'm sorry." She whispered, a hand moving to touch the lad's cheek, bruised and covered with a thin veil of dirt. "But…I can't have Marller interrupt. I hope you can forgive me."
The Norn took a deep and calming breath, her hand moving to rest against the lad's head as she closed her eyes. Focusing on Azazel's breathing, the goddess felt her consciousness fall out of her body, sliding instead in to the grey aura that was Azazel and carefully entering his subconscious.
It was a dark and dreary realm, the land that was his mindscape, looking all too much like the prison he'd dwelled in all his life. No trees, no sky, no colors 'sides the splatters on the walls that looked too much like blood for Belldandy to even dare approach. The goddess followed the stone path laid out before her instead, trying hard not to look at the bars of iron that erupted from the stone ground like some perverse tree, some tipped in point, such as a spear or pike, while others clustered together in bundles, stretching high into an eternity caked in the darkness he must have known his entire life.
How could this be? How could one subconscious mirror so closely the prison that was his home? Was there anything else to this mindscape aside from the grey, the stone, the steel?
As if responding to her thoughts, movement darted in the corner of one eye, and Belldandy twirled to face it, finding not the boy that was the owner of such a drab and dreary place as she'd expected, but rather a cat-small and mangy and underfed, it's golden coat covered in the grey of ash. The creature yowled at her, and then it was gone, turning and darting off into a field of what looked like silver blades before Belldandy could even approach it.
"Wait!" The Norn shouted. "Please, don't go! Come back!" She cried, moving as if to follow the beast before coming to a pause at the base of the trail she followed. Experience had taught her the dangers of wandering off the paths laid out in a person's mindscape, and so instead she stared out across the field in regret, biting her lip before turning away and back to the trail.
And coming face to face with the cat again.
And behind it, another, the same shade, the same size, the same mangy coat of ash.
They were everywhere, an army of cats, watching her with their golden eyes and not voicing a single mew. The Norn of the Present froze at the sight of so many of them, eyes growing large as Belldandy stared back into so many pairs of eyes.
"Oh my…" Belldandy whispered, her voice, for all its softness, a scream against a silence that was deafening.
"Who are you?" The voice was soft and filled with caution, a young male's voice that cut through the silence like a knife. At the sound, the cats before the goddess parted like Moses' ocean, and on the path Belldandy had been following Azazel approached, one of the cats of his mindscape in his arms, another on his shoulder, and several more trailing behind the young man in a train.
His appearance, like the rest of his mindscape, varied little from what his real world was. He was still lean, still dirty, however the cuts and bruises had disappeared, his flesh, for all it was covered in dirt and the ash from his mind-cats, held a healthier consistency to it than his physical body. His clothes were not the rags his other body adorned, but rather a lavish garb of a similarity Belldandy had seen on the three men who'd been his caretakers. The haunted expression she'd seen in his eyes upon a first meeting, the fear, the pain, were all absent from his dark eyes, safe as he was in his own mind. Yet still they held a note of caution, one now directed towards Belldandy.
"I remember you from before. The One who made The Ones disappear." He said, coming to a stop several feet away from her, where the cats behind him moved to encircle him, creating a living ocean of dirty fur and golden eyes, all watching her silently. "What are you doing here?" Azazel asked, his head tilting to the side in curiosity. "The Cat said she made you disappear. Does that mean you've come back? Did you make The Cat disappear too? Are you going to make me disappear?"
The last question held an almost hopeful tone to it, and startled, Belldandy took a step back, uncertain as to how she should respond to such a tone. "I…I am Belldandy." The goddess replied. "I am a goddess, sent down to this kingdom to grant you a wish, Azazel."
Again the lad tilted his head to the side, before scratching behind the ear of the cat in his arms. "A wish?" He repeated. "Why would I be granted a wish? From my birth I've been cursed by you and the rest of your kind. Why the sudden desire to change all that?" He looked down to the cat in his arms, which looked back silently, before burying his face in the small creature's fur. When he brought his face up again, it was grey with the ash that coated the little beast's body. "Besides, what would I do with a wish?" He inquired. "So long as I have The Cat, I'll be perfectly fine. The Cat will keep me warm on nights that grow too cold and keep me fed when the food is small and keep me safe from The Ones who'd hurt me." A soft smile adorned his face and a hand moved to rub underneath the cat's chin. "I don't need a wish if I have The Cat."
I don't need a wish if I have The Cat…
Celestine stood silently in the room that was Azazel's cell, watching as Belldandy's aura dimmed minutely as she fell out of the body housing it, watched as the grey aura that was Azazel's flashed a bright and brilliant blue for a moment before returning to its original grey as Belldandy entered his mind. The tall man turned away then, assured that Belldandy would be successful in finding Azazel's spirit and obtaining the wish.
And while she was fulfilling her half, so too would he fulfill his half, acting as the guard against a demon who would undoubtedly try and prevent the wish from being granted. The god crossed his arms over his chest, muttering a soft spell under his breath and allowing a smirk to adorn his face at the barrier that arose. Just large enough to fill the cell in which he stood, it would prevent anyone, be they man or demon, from interfering. "Now to just find the demon herself." He murmured, dark eyes growing glazed and distant as Celestine allowed his consciousness to spread out from his body, seeping through the barrier he made and to the world beyond, rising and thickening to fill not just the cell, but the entire room in which Azazel dwelled in and beyond, searching for that red tinge associated with the demon.
The Cat has been with me all my life, for as far back as I can remember.
A frown came to align Celestine's face as out of the castle his aura spread, shifting to cover every nook and cranny of the kingdom, sweeping over all the auras that resided within its walls, and going even beyond that and into the surrounding fields where the farmers dwelled. Where was it? Why was he not finding the woman's aura? Surely he'd have found it by now.
The Cat is always there for me, whenever I'm scared, whenever I'm cold, whenever I'm hungry.
His mind distracted as he sought out his opponent, Celestine remained ignorant to the red glow of inhuman eyes that dwelled above his head, high within the shadows of a cell's ceiling. The eyes darted from one deity to the next, narrowing into burning slits of rage at the invasion of its territory by the deities below. She'd returned…even after the warning it'd given her, she'd returned, and this time with back-up.
A growl, deep and throaty and sounding like nothing produced on the Material world, escaped it's throat, and from its hiding place deep within the shadows of the cell, high above the head of the beings called 'gods', it lunged.
Sometimes, The Ones would grow too violent, get too carried away, or would just want to kill me for some reason. The Cat always stopped them from going too far, and New Ones would then come to care for me.
A shriek arose from above Celestine's head, high-pitched and filled with a rage no mortal beast could ever hope to imitate. The man snapped out of his trance and looked up just in time to see it descend upon him. The deity let out a shout of his own as it landed on top of him, all claws and talons and fangs, covered in dirty yellow fur that gathered into spiky clumps from where it clung to its bony frame. Sharp needles plunged into his flesh as above Celestine's head, the demon's avatar shrieked at him, and again the god cried out, this one of pain rather than surprise.
A quick word of power sent the beast off him, and as Celestine rolled to his feet, so too did the avatar, skidding to a halt on all fours as claws and talons sunk into the surrounding stone, slowing the beast to a stop just as it looked as though it might impact against the barrier. It stared at him with a hiss, rows of teeth in-beset a second mouth within the first. The double jaws roared at him, and the monstrosity rose to its hind legs, easily over-towering Celestine's five foot ten by a good several inches. Claws and talons as large as his pinky curved inwards maliciously, creating puncture marks in the stone wherever it stepped. Blazing slit red eyes, burning like hellfire lay set in a short, cat-like muzzle of a face, and as Celestine's eyes met it's, the creature charged him once more.
The Cat doesn't like it when people got like that. The One's she saw as a threat she killed, and she'd stuff the bodies in the hearth she lived in.
Celestine's eyes widened as the monster came at him once more, and an instinct honed from long years of training kicked in, flinging a hand in front of him and shooting out small slivers of white energy at the avatar. The magic struck true, and the demon shrieked in pain, recoiling from the attack.
However, the victory was short lived, and the smile that had begun to creep upon Celestine's face vanished as he watched the thing absorb his magic, the white light that was his signature slowly sinking into the thing's flesh. Snaps, pops, the grinding of bone against bone, and the demon's avatar was mutating, right before the deity's very eyes. Its body grew larger, the clumps of fur that stuck out in points condensing, hardening into an outer, jagged shell of thorns.
Eyes wide in horror, Celestine took a step back. "What in the world? How is this even possible?" The man stumbled back, narrowly avoiding the swipe of a paw the size of his head and falling to the ground. The avatar steadily encroaching on him, he retreated on hands and feet, ducking and dodging claws eager to tear him to shreds. Something solid and cold pressed up against his head, while his back continued moving, backing into an opening he'd not noticed before. A quick glance behind the man revealed a hearth, and thinking fast, Celestine reached a hand inside, bringing out a fist full of ash and flinging it in the monster's face.
The demon threw its head back in a roar as the dust struck its eyes, and Celestine's hand darted back inside the hearth, hoping to grab more ash for insurance and instead feeling something smooth and cool grace his fingertips. Without thinking, the deity grabbed it, readying a spell to cast upon whatever it was that might injure the monster and freezing mid-breath as he glanced at what it was he'd grabbed for ammunition.
A human skull.
The deity screamed.
Because no matter how you look at it, this kingdom is little more the mouse hole for The Cat-it, and everything in it, are all hers. Her possessions, her territory, her strength. No one soul can beat The Cat on her own territory, no matter who you are…
"Azazel…what are you saying?" Belldandy asked, for the first time in her life doubting her own ears. "Haven't you ever wanted to see the light of day? To feel the warmth of the sun? To wear clothes like the ones you wear now, comfortable and protective from the elements? Do you not wish to fill your empty stomach, to know the taste of food not beset with rot and disease? To sleep on a bed of feathers and warmth rather than cool stone? To walk the streets outside your prison, to live in a home not surrounded by the iron bars of a cell? To live?"
Yet the lad shook his head, an amused chuckle escaping his throat as though Belldandy had told some great joke. "I'm afraid I don't follow you, Belldandy." He said. "What are you talking about? The sun? A bed of feathers? I have no need for such imaginary things."
Just as a blind man who claims there is no such thing as vision because he lacks it…Belldandy thought sadly, a frown steadily growing deeper and deeper the longer the duo conversed. "But…there must be something…something you desire that I can grant you. No one should be forced to live in such a condition because of the factors of a contract between a demon and a mortal before that person was even born."
Across from her, it was Azazel's turn to frown as Belldandy's words met his ears. "…Demon?" He parroted, brows scrunching together in confusion from under a mop of dark dirty hair. "…What are you talking about? What demon?"
The frown Belldandy wore only seemed grow. "Marller." She explained. "The demon who formed a contract with your father before you were born. The demon you said to have been around you for as far back as you can remember, living in the body of the cat you hold in your arms." She pointed to the creature, and Azazel dropped the beast as though bitten, where it fell to the ground before bounding off in one direction into parts unknown. A great gust of wind manifested in the surrounding area, and suddenly all the cats were gone, leaving no one but Belldandy and Azazel in its wake.
The lad bowed his head, mumbling something Belldandy was unable to catch under his breath before moving to approach the Norn. Belldandy blinked in surprise, wondering what it was she'd said that had brought such a strong reaction from the young man. "I-I'm sorry?" She said. "What did you say?"
The lad was trembling now, standing in front of Belldandy with less than a foot to separate them by. He looked up, and Belldandy gasped at the sudden rage that had overcome his expression. "…More…" He muttered, before lunging at the goddess and grabbing her robes with his hands. "I said I want to know more! Tell me more about The Cat! Marller! What has she been keeping from me all these years?" He demanded, pulling Belldandy down to eye-level with himself and alarming the goddess as, underneath the raw rage that dwelled within his eyes, utter and complete terror resided. "You are telling me that my cursed life has been a lie? That it was not some great and terrible goddess that did this to me, but a demon? The very one I thought to have been my sole companion all these years? Answer me!"
"You devil!" Celestine roared at the blinded avatar, rocketing to his feet, gripping the skull so hard that it crumbled in his grasp. Bone shards fell from his fingers, and the man released what little remained, swiping the air in front of him hard enough that it glowed white with his magic, and then reaching out to grasp the energy with both hands. The light grew brighter as his hands wrapped around one end of it before beginning to fade, and in its place, a sword remained, its blade long and sharp, glowing silver with a magic that mixed with Celestine's own.
Still blinded, the god rushed the monster, a snarl on his face that mirrored the one of the demon before him. "What have you been doing here?" He demanded, slashing at one of the avatar's flailing arms and carving a thick, deep cut into its upper muscle. "Do you know what you've done? Do you know how much I hate skulls? I'm going to end you Beast!" Celestine screamed, his voice rising in a chorus of rage with the creature's own shrieks of rage, the man dodging out of the way just as a paw moved swat him away.
"I may not know what it is that you've been up to these past decades, demon-even I don't have the clearance for that information-but rest assured, I am going to make you pay for it." He growled. "By the time I'm finished with you, you'll be relieved to know I'll be sealing you for five hundred years!" A battle cry tore from his throat, and the deity leaped into the air, aiming for the creatures face.
Yet it was all for naught as eyes that had been locked shut in an attempt to protect its eyes from ash suddenly snapped open, and the beast lunged to meet Celestine in the air, twin jaws and rows upon rows of sharp and jagged teeth sinking into his shoulder just as his blade came down on the thing's collarbone. Again, twin cries of pain sang in chorus with each other, and Celestine brought his foot above him, kicking into the monstrosity's underside with all the force he could muster.
It worked, knocking the wind from the demon and allowing Celestine enough of an opportunity to squirm out from underneath the beast, grasping his shoulder in pain and retreating a short distance from the avatar. The creature in question slowly picked itself off the ground with a strange sort of mewling wheeze, Celestine's sword still embedded on its collarbone. Panting, it stared at him, and grimly, Celestine wondered for how much longer he could keep the beast distracted.
That thing had bitten him hard enough to pierce the barrier that separated his true tenth-dimensional body from the third-dimension land he stood upon, and though he clutched his injured shoulder, it did little to stop the blood that was seeping into his uniform, turning the white cloth a dark shade of red and the blue etching around it an even darker purple. "Belldandy, you need to hurry it up over there." The man muttered beneath his breath. "I do not want to faint from blood loss in the Assiah."
Carefully, the man slowly backpedalled, his actions slow and deliberate as he maintained eye contact with his opponent, sweeping his feet in various patterns on the ground he traversed, silently willing the demon to follow after him as he felt himself press up against the cool of stone once more. In front of him, the demon looked to the sword still embedded in its flesh, before yanking it out with a roar that made Celestine's ears throb and tossing it to the other side of the room. A bright geyser of red erupted from the newly drawn wound, and the monster licked at it in an effort to halt the blood flow.
Unnoticed by the demon, Celestine scowled, watching as the spray of blood diminished into nothing and acting as a reminder for his own shoulder. Stupid demon. He thought in disdain. Why can't gods simply lick a wound and have it sealed like that? I swear, there is no justice in these worlds…
The wound sealed, the creature turned back to him with a hiss, something that looked like a perverse imitation of a smile on its muzzle as their eyes locked once more. Its ears folded tightly down upon its head the beast rushed the god, body low to the ground to the point where it's belly near brushed the stone. Annnnnd now. The god scuffed his heel on the back of the wall he was leaned against, ending the spell as the demon came within its range and grinning like a lunatic as the monster suddenly found itself propelled off the ground and back in the direction it came, sailing through the air and into the bars of the cell, where the barrier Celestine had erected prior still resided.
Another shriek of pain escaped the demon's throat as lightning of a divine nature arched across the demon's body, seeming to grasp hold of the thrashing creature and hold it against the bars the barrier had been aligned with. Not wasting any time, the god darted to where his sword had been tossed, leaning down and grabbing the hilt without pausing in his run, all in one single, fluid movement that momentarily caused his vision to grey.
"I'm really starting to hate demons." He gasped, mentally willing the grey in his eyes to fade away and give him a clear view of the demon that was his target. "Belldandy, I love you like the daughter I never had, but I'm sorry. After this, you owe me big." He grumbled, taking a deep breath and shouting once more a word of power, one that destroyed the barrier the demon was caught on and allow its crumpled form to sag to the ground.
A thin waft of steam arose from its body from where lightning had singed flesh, and the man hurriedly walked to its side, rolling a body that twitched with electricity onto its back. That done, Celestine let the tip of his sword drop to the demon's throat, allowing the cool metal to rest as the beast slowly recuperated from its bout of electricity.
Slowly, glazed eyes cleared and came to focus on Celestine, and the demon snarled at the man, lips pulling back and revealing teeth that shone in what little light the room had to offer. A growl rumbled deep in its throat, and it was only the cool tip of the sword in the god's hand that kept the creature from moving.
Unaffected by the monster's actions, Celestine did little 'sides narrow his eyes at the beast. "Change back." He ordered pressing the tip of the sword further down into the things throat for added emphasis. "Enough of these games you play, demon. It ends today. Now change back." Another growl rose from the demon's throat, and for a second the god was unsure if his order would be followed. But then the growl dispersed into a hiss, and the man watched silently as its body slowly began to shrink, claws and talons receding into what slowly shifted to hands and feet. Dual maws merged into a single mouth, where fangs dulled and blunted into normal, more humanoid features. Flesh sprouted where fur receded, and limbs and joints bent and twisted into the less flexible limbs of a human.
Several minutes passed, and where once a monster rested, in its place Marller laid, hissing in pain, her hands clenching and unclenching as she glared into the eyes above her head. Allowing the blade to rest upon her neck, Celestine muttered a soft word of binding under his breath, tracing the character in the air and watching as the glowing sigil descended upon the demon's body. That done, Celestine removed the sword from Marller's throat, allowing it to dissipate once more into the energy it had once been.
That done, the man removed his outer robe, one shoulder drenched in blood, and offered it to the woman as she slowly moved to sit up. "Here, cover yourself." The god grumbled, feeling more than a little flustered at the demon's new state of being-or lack thereof.
The demon in question stared up at him in suspicion, looking from the offered garment to the god in front of her accusingly. "…It has blood on it." She said.
Finding himself in no mood to play anymore games with the nude woman, he snapped, "And who can we thank for that, I wonder?" He turned to glare back down at the younger woman, and this time gained the satisfaction of seeing her flinch at his tone and take the offered cloth, wrapping it around her body and being mindful of where the soiled shoulder touched her flesh.
"So this is it then?" Marller sighed, what little strength remaining with her having vanished with the binding of her magic. "Does this mean it's over?"
It was Belldandy who responded to the question, approaching the duo forlornly with a haunted expression on her face. The woman looked to have aged a year and a day since entering Azazel's mind, and now she looked to the two in exhaustion, as though whatever task she'd accomplished had drained her of energy. "It's over. All of it. The wish has been granted."
The woman looked to her mentor, who stared at her in alarm. "Celestine? Can we go home? I…I don't want to be here anymore." The Norn moved to her mentor's side, leaning against him uncaringly of the blood that stained his undershirt.
"Belldandy…" The man drifted off, looking from his charge and back to the boy who'd finally gained his wish, still resting on his bed of stone, yet to awaken from his sleep. He looked back down to the brunette, wrapping his uninjured arm around the younger woman's shoulders. "Yes…yes I suppose we can then, if you managed to accomplish the wish he desired.
A soft nod of the head was the only source of response he got from the Norn, who slowly turned to look back down to the demon at their feet. "Marller…" she whispered, her voice raw with an emotion Marller couldn't recognize. "I have something to ask you before we leave. Why did you stay with him?"
The question caught the demon off-guard, and Marller looked over to the boy on the stone before looking back to Belldandy. "What do you mean?"
"The contract…there was nothing in the contract that stated you needed to be at his side his entire life. So why did you stay with him? Why did you give him food? Why did you kill the people who risked him so much more harm than the bruises and scrapes on his body? Why did you keep him warm and comfort him on long and cold nights? Why did you stay with him?"
Taken aback at the sudden rush of question, Marller was momentarily left speechless, clutching Celestine's robe tighter to her body as she looked at the goddess with thoughtful red eyes. "Humans…are an interesting branch of mortals, Belldandy." She finally said. "Something you'll discover is…the more time you spend around them, the more attached you become to them. You'd do well to remember that."
With a grunt, the demon slowly rose to her feet, looking over to the lad in question once more. "So then what do you have planned for me then?" She asked. "You don't expect me to believe that I can simply return to the life of before, do you? Now that Azazel has his wish?"
Celestine opened his mouth to respond, but Belldandy beat him to it. "Leave."
Belldandy nodded. "Yes…you heard me Marller. Leave. Leave this kingdom, leave this plane, return to Niflhiem and treat your wounds. There is nothing left for you here."
Both Celestine and Marller looked to the younger goddess in surprise. "Belldandy?" Celestine asked, yet gaining only a head shake in response. "Please Celestine…I'm done. Let's go home. Leave Marller alone. There is nothing that can be gained for either side here anymore.
The man hesitated for a moment, casting once more a glance to the demon and the sleeping youth. There was something off about the youth, and with a start, he looked down to Belldandy once more, who refused to meet his gaze. "Oh Belldandy…" He murmured, stooping slightly to kiss the top of her forehead. "Always so quick to cry…Fine then, let us depart for home." He looked back to the demon, still clutching his robe tightly to her body. "You can keep the dress." He said, nodding to the cloth in question. "After one such as you touching it, I'm fairly certain I won't be needing it back."
Marller snorted at the insult. "Who ever said I intended to give it back?" She retorted. "I was planning to stuff it with hay and stick whatever black hair of yours stuck in its lining on it like a wig, then use it as a voodoo punching bag."
The man rolled his eyes at the woman, who stuck her tongue out in reply.
And in a flash, they were gone, leaving Marller alone in the cell with Azazel.
The two deities gone, Marller sighed, running her good hand through thick blonde curls before moving to approach the youth. Silently, she brushed the hair from his face, before crawling on top of the slab and moving to lay down behind him. Mindful of her own wounds, the demon wrapped the spare cloth of the robe around Azazel's body, before wrapping her good arm around his torso and drawing the youth close. "I suppose…you won't mind if I spend one last night with you before I leave, do you?" She asked, burying her nose in his hair and inhaling his scent.
Azazel didn't respond however, and as she released her breath, so too did she allow her tears to fall.
"That's right…you heard me. I want you to end it. If you want me to believe you Belldandy, than that means you want me to believe the fact that everything I've ever known has been a lie. That all the pain I've had to endure, all the suffering at the hands of my own people, has been all for nothing. I don't want to live in a world like that. You said you have to grant me a wish? One that can be anything I want, right? Fine than, this is my wish.
I want you to-
Slowly Belldandy's eyes opened, and in the light of the household, a face stared down at her, his hair dark and eyes darker, staring down at her warmly.
The young man's face broke out into a grin. "You fell asleep against me, remember? There was a fight between Urd and Skuld, and you accidently used too much of your magic to break them up." He explained, his eyes deepening in concern. "Are you alright? You looked like you were having a bad dream for a while there."
The goddess blinked in surprise, before slowly sitting up with Keiichi's assistance. "I…yes, I'm alright. It was just a memory from a long time ago, nothing more."
"Do you mind if I ask what it was about?"
The Norn smiled. "No…not at all. It was about my first contract as a goddess first-class. There were many issues involved with me simply being able to give him his wish, but I was finally able to accomplish it with the help of my old mentor, Celestine."
Across from her, Keiichi grinned. "I bet you made that guy really happy when you were finally able to grant his wish." He said assuringly.
The woman hesitated for a brief moment, staring at Keiichi with an expression that eluded him, before finally nodding her head slowly. "Yes…" She murmured, surprising the lad by moving to wrap her arms around his torso. "Yes…I think I did too."
I want you to end my life Belldandy. Get rid of this kingdom and let me be reborn. And when I am reborn, I want you to find me again, and show me what it means to 'live'. Is that acceptable? Will you grant me that one wish?
Comments of a Madwoman: So…I think I spent all of November working on this cursed story since the moment Task Force brought the challenge up in the forums. Task Force, I just wanted you to know-yes, it's probably my own fault that I made a thrice-cursed oneshot so damned long, but I'm still blaming you for this. Somewhere down the road I decided I'd write it, and as the stupid thing got longer and longer, I decided I'd write it for you, just as a way to keep me focused on the damn story. I spent a good portion of my Thanksgiving break writing this evil monstrosity, so I'll be mad it I find out it doesn't fit your approval.
Even if it is a little different from what you'd probably initially requested. See how my mind works? Maybe it's a bad idea for me to be doing oneshot challenges…
I hate November.